Blog Posts

“Seven million options? You’re hired.”

When I first saw this I was impressed with the idea. On further perusal, the company’s description took me aback a little:

An algorithm has usurped the traditional role of a designer to generate millions of unique packaging designs for Nutella.

The algorithm pulled from a database of dozens of patterns and colours to create seven million different versions of Nutella’s graphic identity, which have been splashed across the front of jars in Italy.

Nutella’s manufacturer Ferrero worked with advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Italia on the project, titled Nutella Unica.

Let’s break this up: You have the initial concept design by Ogilvy & Mather Italia, the algorithm design by a team of engineers, and then the design output by the program which is only acceptable holistically; if a team were to analyse each ‘design’ on its own merit (with no story behind it) I’d see roughly ten to twenty labels shortlisted by virtue of sheer quantities, not to mention the countless hours spent in evaluating seven million options.

But let’s be amazed by how permutational power can displace good old traditional design.

Apple’s HomePod is a smart speaker which sounds better than it sounds

Apple’s latest hardware effort:

HomePod is a powerful speaker that sounds amazing, adapts to wherever it’s playing, and together with Apple Music, gives you effortless access to one of the world’s largest music catalogs. All controlled through natural voice interaction with Siri. It takes the listening experience to a whole new level. And that’s just the beginning.

Here’s Dieter Bohn for The Verge, evaluating its sound quality:

The main thing to know is that Apple has done a remarkably good job finding ways to get its speaker to feel like it’s filling a room with sound. The other thing to know is that Apple is doing something interesting with those seven tweeters.

Basically, Apple is claiming that, using the microphones, the speaker can work out the shape of the room and then beamform different parts of the song to different areas. So the vocals get pumped straight out into the center of the room while the “ambient” bits get bounced off the wall. I can’t speak to the proper audiophile terms for what they’re talking about, but I can say that it sounded pretty immersive and impressive in person.

We also heard the sound quality up against an Amazon Echo and a Sonos Play:3 — obviously the HomePod came out on top — but I’m not sure how much credence to lend to that part of the demo.

Credit where its due; even though Apple has long had ties with music, to come out of the gate with a music system after such a long period and still trump dedicated players like Sonos is impressive. Granted its expensive, but so are all their other products. That they can consistently charge the prices they do shows the faith they have in churning out the quality of products they do.

And smart strategy to bundle this as a speaker that you can talk to rather than a assistant that can play music. At the moment, Siri can’t hold a candle to Google Home.

Apple launches 10.5 inch iPad with enhanced iOS productivity features

Apple refreshed its iPad Pro lineup yesterday which included replacing the current 9.7″ size with a larger 10.5″ in just a slightly larger body — bezels were reduced by 40% — for a larger display and a full size keyboard. On the hardware front, we’ve come to expect the processor and graphics bump, but the most significant improvement is the 120 Hz refresh rate (on par with decent TVs) which has doubled from last year’s model. This enables a smoother scrolling and most importantly, an almost unnoticeable lag while using the Pencil.

Hardware though is only half — and the less important one at that — the story. The iPad can finally be taken as a serious productivity tool thanks to the system wide iOS improvements tailored to this device’s power and form factor. That includes a file manager, a MacOS style dock, better multitasking, the much awaited drag-and-drop feature, and better markup abilities for the Pencil.

I’m not going into much detail since Apple’s website explain the products well. All in all, these iPads are better than mid-range PCs at similar costs but are ironically straddled by what made iOS so popular and the preferred platform in the first place – app support (pro level in this case).

Side rant: I’m sure those bezels can be reduced further especially at this size and with all of Apple’s love for symmetry, the home button being vertically misaligned [off centre] seems bizarre.

Brutalist redesigns of popular apps

Via Pierre Buttin:

I wonder if these rugged aesthetics, now commonplace in cutting-edge websites, can work at scale – in mobile apps used by +1b people. Instagram’s new UI paved the way: can this effort be replicated in other categories (e.g. gaming)? Is brutalism a fad or the future of app design? Would it make apps more usable, easy-to-use and delightful? To end with, would it generate more growth? Conversions experts sometimes suggest that more text equals more engagement – what if we push this idea to the extreme?

I dare say he’s got a point here – discounting the garish colours in some cases, the block-iness and straightforwardness of the UI makes you wonder whether we’ve taken minimalism a little too far.

Grading the smartness of smart assistants

Felix Richter, writing for Statista:

According to research conducted by digital agency Stone Temple “smart assistants” may not be quite as smart as they are made out to be. Take Amazon’s Alexa for example: the assistant powering the company’s popular line of voice-enabled speakers was able to answer just 20.7 percent of the 5,000 questions fired at it as part of the experiment. Notably, Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana were much more knowledgeable when it came to these factual questions while Apple’s Siri performed similar to Alexa.

At the end of the day however, it doesn’t matter how good you are, it matters which device you’re using. Apple and Google hold a pretty big advantage over the others.

Weekly Vision: June 04, 2017

The Weekly Vision is a collection of stories that are worth consuming as whole, or just not worth the time editing. You’ll find out either way.

1. Tulips, myths and cryptocurrencies. Worth reading to understand the Tulip Bubble alone.

2. The rise of Atheism in Arab societies

3. How people select their own reality by avoiding information

4. A cognitive bias cheat sheet

5. How the webcam reshaped social media and the adult entertainment industry

The first blue pigment created in over 200 years to be used in a crayon

Kate Sierzputowski, writing for Collosal:

The first blue pigment to have been created in over 200 years will serve as the newest Crayola crayon. “YlnMn blue” was not developed within an arts context, but rather accidentally discovered in in an Oregon State University (OSU) chemistry lab in 2009. Graduate student Andrew Smith made the discovery alongside Mas Subramanian after combining manganese oxide, yttrium, and indium, elements which also serve as the inspiration for the pigment’s name.

“Most pigments are discovered by chance,” Subramanian explained in a statement. “The reason is because the origin of the color of a material depends not only on the chemical composition, but also on the intricate arrangement of atoms in the crystal structure. So someone has to make the material first, then study its crystal structure thoroughly to explain the color.”

YlnMn blue has a unique elemental structure which allows its manganese ions to absorb red and green wavelengths of light, only reflecting back a deep blue. This color is so durable that even when placed in oil or water it does not fade which makes it an attractive and versatile commercial product.

Terrible name, beautiful colour.

A drone capable of catching objects on the fly

Dario Brescianini exhibits and explains — in a rather geeky way — developing a omni-directional drone with eight rotors, capable of generating approximately 500,000 trajectories per second [unfortunately, with not much perspective on that figure].

Simply put, watch him throw up a ball in the air and see the drone calculate not only the trajectory of the ball, but the precise time required to reach the ‘catching point’ in real-time. Impressive stuff.

Rapid Liquid Printing

The Self-Assembly Lab of MIT, along with collaboration with Steelcase introduces a new 3D printing technology:

Rapid Liquid Printing physically draws in 3D space within a gel suspension, and enables the creation of large scale, customized products made of real-world materials.

3D printing hasn’t taken off as a mainstream manufacturing process for three main reasons: 1) it’s too slow compared to conventional processes like injection molding, casting, milling, etc. 2) it’s limited by scale – although it’s good for creating small components, it’s not possible to produce large scale objects 3) the materials are typically low-quality compared to industrial materials.

They’ve conveniently missed out on cost being a big deterrent, especially since this is more than likely to be costlier than the conventional process, but it’s worth noting all the new advances in a potentially large market.

The exponential domino effect

We usually relate the domino effect with one piece starting off a chain reaction to subsequent effects but with all pieces being similar. Stephen Morris brings up the realisation of how a domino can knock over another 1.5 times its size, leading to one tiny push demolish something as big as “The Empire State Building” after 29 moves.

Jason Kottke has an interesting take on this as a metaphor:

Advances in culture, technology, and science depend on past innovations and advances. Humans become capable of more and more as the momentum of knowledge grows.

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